ASPF Brings Xyza Bacani to Manila House

Internationally acclaimed street and documentary photographer Xyza Bacani took center stage in Asia Society Philippines’ first partnership with Manila House. In a short program that consisted of a presentation, digital exhibit, and dialogue, Xyza Bacani made known to the audience gathered at Manila House last February 21, 2017 the talent and deeply personal advocacy that made her a quick-rising star in the international photography scene.

Xyza presented three collections: Aftermath, Classrooms of Hope, and Komunidad. In Aftermath and Komunidad, she featured migrant workers from five different countries. Xyza used the collections to emphasize the importance of labels. Calling domestic workers “workers” instead of “helpers,” gives importance and value to their work, Xyza urges. It makes their work a profession, versus “helper” which makes it seem more voluntary, and lacking in formal rules and regulations that domestic workers abide by. Through these projects focused on the migrant worker community, Xyza hopes that there will be a change in the perception that domestic workers will not be seen as slow or “stupid” and will be given the fair treatment they deserve.

Aftermath also touched on migrant workers who were victims of human rights violations as they plied their trade overseas. Xyza shared that it was important for her to portray these people in her images as survivors, rather than victims of their circumstances. It is Xyza’s desire that these images also inspire more victims to come out and get their stories heard.

In Classrooms of Hope, Xyza featured images of children and soldiers in areas in rural Mindanao where childrens’ education is so often interrupted by rebel fighting. Despite the dangers posed by the area where she had taken most of her photographs, Xyza shares that she had fallen in love with the place and the children who called the place home. Xyza’s wish is that education be used as a means to end radicalization in the area, and went on to promote the work of the group Classrooms of Hope, an organization whose mission is to build classrooms in the farthest flung areas of the Philippines.

A common element in Xyza’s photography is the featuring of her subjects as being strong despite their hardships. The same can be said of Xyza, who herself had worked as a domestic helper in Hong Kong for a decade. Her mother, who serves as her motivation and inspiration, still works as a domestic helper in Hong Kong.

In a dialogue hosted by veteran ABS-CBN broadcast journalist Ces Drilon after Xyza’s presentation, Xyza discussed her beginnings as a photographer. Despite being told by her mother that “photography is for rich people,” Xyza had gone around Hong Kong taking pictures, to show her mother what life was like outside the walls of their employer’s house.

Xyza also talked about life as a freelance photographer, and how she sometimes missed her former life as a domestic helper because it offered her stability and a reassurance that every night she would have a bed to sleep in and food to eat. Another difficulty she experienced in being a freelance photographer is that people continue to expect to get her photos for free. Xyza then talked about an ongoing lawsuit with a publishing company that had used her work without proper permission. Going after the publisher and getting proper compensation for her work was not the mission behind the lawsuit—instead, it was to inspire other up and coming photographers to demand for fair treatment of their own work.

To this day, Xyza still has moments when she cannot believe that she has gotten to where she is. She had not even heard of the New York Times or its influence until after her feature had been published. But her mentor had pushed her, reminding her that she was put in a privileged position, and urged her to make use of it.

Xyza also hopes that through her work, the Philippine government will put in place better laws to support and protect migrant workers. This can be as simple as completely removing the terminal fees placed on those who fly in and out of the country for domestic work. Xyza understands that she may not immediately shake or change the system, but bit by bit, small improvements can be made to better the lives of those of whom she features and inspires.

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Xyza Bacani is currently raising funds for a book compilation of photos on migrant workers. Those interested in supporting Xyza’s work and advocacy can email her at xyzabacani@yahoo.com to request a copy of her catalog. More information about Xyza Bacani can be found on her website, found here.